12/15/20: FOUR MORE DARE RESIDENTS ARE HOSPITALIZED FOR COVID-19, AS NEW CASES AVERAGE 15 PER DAY IN PAST WEEK. Plus the ‘Staggering’ COVID-19 Metrics at the State Level and the Pfizer Vaccine Rollout.

Four Dare County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 “complications” since last Thursday—three in the past three days alone—according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard and Dr. Sheila Davies’s coronavirus update today.

All four are in the high-risk age 65-or-older group. Two are men, and two are women.

In the past week, the DCDHHS dashboard has reported the following new COVID-19 case numbers:

Tuesday, Dec. 8: 20 cases, 16 residents and four nonresidents;

Wednesday, Dec. 9: 19 cases, 15 residents and four nonresidents;

Thursday, Dec. 10: 24 cases, 18 residents and six nonresidents;

Friday, Dec. 11: seven cases, four residents and three nonresidents;

Saturday, Dec. 12: 24 cases, 13 residents and 11 nonresidents;

Sunday, Dec. 13: seven cases, four residents and three nonresidents;

Monday, Dec. 14: six cases, all residents;

Today, Dec. 15: 13 cases, 10 residents and three nonresidents

The numbers average 15 new COVID-19 cases per day. Roughly 72 percent of the cases are locals.

The “vast majority” of new cases, Dr. Davies reports today, “are linked to direct contact between close friends and families.” This has been true throughout the pandemic.

Seven Dare County residents are currently hospitalized, according to the DCDHHS dashboard.

We have discovered in our daily monitoring of the dashboard that the recovery and/or transfer into isolation of hospitalized residents are not always reported.

ON THE STATE LEVEL: ‘STAGGERING’ METRICS AND VACCINE DOSES

Last Friday the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported what NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen called in a statement a “staggering” number of new COVID-19 cases: 7,540—with 2,514 hospitalizations, and a positivity rate of 10.4 percent.

At a briefing today with Governor Roy Cooper, Secretary Cohen again spoke about “staggering increases in our pandemic trends,” the most worrisome being the number of hospitalizations.

The NCDHHS reported today that 2,735 people are hospitalized statewide because of COVID-19.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have nearly doubled in the past month, the Secretary said, as have the number of people in intensive care units statewide.

Today, 643 people are in an ICU being treated for COVID-19, Dr. Cohen said, whereas a month ago, 350 people were.

“Too many North Carolinians are getting seriously ill,” she said, “. . . and too many are dying.”

According to the NCDHHS dashboard today, 5,881 people have died of COVID-19 in North Carolina since mid-March.

The concern with hospitalizations, Dr. Cohen explained, is not that hospitals are running out of physical space for COVID-19 patients, but that they have a limited number of physicians and nurses available to treat them. Nurses, in particular, are in demand.

Vaccine Update

The Governor reported that 11 N.C. hospitals have received doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this week, and 42 more hospitals will receive doses on Thursday. These 53 hospitals will receive all of the state’s initial allotment of 85,000 doses.

The first three “early ship sites” were Atrium Health in Charlotte, Duke University Hospital, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The federal government determines state-by-state distribution of the vaccine according to a state’s population and how much vaccine is being manufactured, Dr. Cohen explained.

The Secretary finally confirmed today, as we had surmised, that the 85,000 doses are FIRST doses, only. The 85,000 second doses will be shipped in two weeks.

(Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are administered in two doses: the former, 21 days apart, and the latter, 28 days apart.)

More Pfizer vaccine will be shipped next week, Dr. Cohen and the Governor explained, but they will not know until Friday morning, when U.S. officials inform them, just how much they will receive.

This timing puts pressure on state officials, the Governor said, to “get back with them [the feds] in only a few hours to tell them where we want the shipments to go” on Monday. The arrangement is hardly ideal.

The federal government is exclusively responsible for distributing vaccine doses to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, through CVS and Walgreens. These facilities are likely to receive the Moderna vaccine, assuming it is approved, Dr. Cohen said, because it is packaged in smaller units and is more portable.  

Both vaccines have been reported to be 90 to 95 percent effective in clinical trials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration may approve an Emergency Use Authorization for the Moderna vaccine this week. If it does, Dr. Cohen said, North Carolina will receive 175,000 (first) doses of that vaccine next week, half of which will go to long-term care facilities.

The priority for vaccine recipients is 1) health-care workers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients; 2) staff and residents in long-term care facilities; and 3) all adults with two or more chronic conditions. The FDA’s emergency use order excludes anyone under age 16, and people who get severe reactions from any of the ingredients in the vaccine, from receiving it.

Dr. Cohen said her “best estimate” is that it will be “well into the spring” before any vaccine is “widely available” to anyone who wants it.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 12/15/20    

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